A Collage of Our Times: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Let us proceed in reverse order:


The Ugly.

  1. Did you see the story about the Georgia public school that tried to teach yoga to its students? A number of evangelical Christian parents got really upset. Here is the story:



The school apologized for the yoga instructions and even banned the use of the Sanskrit word, “Namaste.” Strange. Incredible. But given the nature of the religiosity of these folks, understandable. And interestingly enough the parents do have a valid argument of sorts: given that public schools do not allow expressions of Christian faith, like prayer, why is it that Hindu expression is allowed? The school answers that they are not allowing Hindu expression but simply extracting a popular element from the matrix of Hinduism that is useful for relaxation and de-stressing. That of course raises a very big question that has elicited thoughtful and intelligent debate and discussion among various people: can you really and legitimately abstract some element from a given religious tradition and use it for some other purpose? The true use and place of yoga is in uncovering the presence of God within one’s consciousness, not just for exercise and de-stressing. People can and do have different opinions on this topic, but suffice it to say these folks are not interested in that kind of debate but prefer to protect their children from “satanic religion.” There are a number of conservative Christian websites that warn of the “perils” of yoga!


  1. Another dubious expression of Christianity: Every Good Friday there are these people that flagellate themselves and others who even crucify themselves. This bizarre religious expression defies explanation, and I can see why some begin even to question the nature of religion. You could say that this is only a very small group of people compared to the large numbers of the “more sane” believers; but really these folk are only the extreme tip of a large iceberg so to speak. In this group I include the large numbers of these televangelists, the hawkers of spiritual goods, programs and books to solve all your problems, the Prosperity Gospel people; the miracle hounds, like what does it really matter in this insane world that some remnant of blood liquefies or some flesh does not corrupt, really…. Religion gets turned into superstition or magic; if you have the magic words and/or the proper talisman, presto, you are “saved.” But….but if you get to the heart of every major religion, you will find that the real meaning of that religion has everything to do with compassion and freedom…not the freedom of our superficial society but the deep freedom of our deep self which is not moved by compulsion or fear or the crazy images and phantasms of our insane social existence. Read T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.” Real religion addresses that picture; it is not a magical substitute for the mess we have made.


  1. Ok, just to show you Christianity isn’t the only one afflicted in this way, take a look at this story from India:


India has a lot of problems. Political, social, and yes even religious. This cradle and home of a very deep spiritual tradition has been beset with radical Hinduism that equates religious identity and national identity and raises caste to a sacred rule. It has also been beset with unsettling violence against women and with calls for repression and censorship of any other religious views or of any criticism of Hinduism. The story here is not that serious but it is also worrisome. The fake religiosity and spirituality is rampant and that does not bode well; it is not a sign of religious health.

The Bad.

  1. So with all these examples of “ugly” religion, is it any wonder that religion as a whole is losing ground in our culture? Take a look at this story:


What’s interesting here is that this phenomenon includes not only formal religion but also that fuzzy spirituality that supposedly was growing in our time, spirituality “without religion.” No comment here. Take it for what you will; it pretty much matches my own observations of life around me. And what I think is much more important is that this is a small piece in a much larger and darker picture which I point to below.


  1. I wonder how many people realize how really, really bad our social, economic and political situation is. Here’s a short essay to help you with that:



  1. So we had these suicide bombings in Belgium a few weeks ago. The reactions from out leaders are typical and predictable. Here is something a bit different from Christ Hedges:



  1. Take a social concern, like gun control. The prevalence of gun violence in our society is very troubling, and we count on our political leaders to make some wise decisions to reduce that violence. Unfortunately, what they do is give you something with one hand to alleviate your concerns and then with the other do something hidden and quite contrary that exacerbates the situation in incredible ways. Just one example: the President is down on the prevalence of guns in our society but did you know that our country has been the leading seller of arms to the whole world during the past 8 years. We are the gun dealer for the world. There is no end to our hypocrisy. Here is the story:




  1. And I can’t leave the political scene without a bit of dark humor. Here is a hilarious clip that parodies a Men’s Wearhouse Ad, a place where you can buy a cheap suit. Here you can buy a congressman really cheap:



  1. Mother Nature may have her own plans for solving all this rot–like wiping us out!! Kurt Vonnegut once said that Earth will one day treat us like an invading bacteria and cleanse itself of us. It’s called Global Warming. We are sleepwalking through all this and very few seem to care or want to take the radical steps needed. That climate conference a few months back in Europe was a totally inadequate response and things may be a lot worse than anyone suspected. James Hansen, the legendary climate scientist who first brought this phenomenon to our attention about 1990 or so, has recently brought out a paper indicating that we are only decades away from catastrophe, not centuries as some thought.   Here is the story:



And then there was this story just about February weather:



The Good.

  1. There was a reasonable and a half-way intelligent debate about Mother Teresa on the front page of the New York Times–whether she should be canonized. Considering the other crazy religious news and considering the insanity of our times, this was “different.” Here is the story:


Both sides have their valid points, and I don’t think anyone will convince the “other side” of a change in perspective. But it is refreshing that we don’t idealize and idolize our “holy” figures–like we have in the past with so many so-called saints. My favorite in this regard is St. Bernard who called for the killing of Moslems. Enough said. As one who doesn’t really believe in this canonization thing, I figure if my church wants to play at this let them. My concern is NOT to “get to heaven,” as a reward for “being good,” but the Presence of God here and now and what that means here and now. For every human being every breath is not some arbitrary, mechanical event but a pure gift and a messenger from Absolute Reality, saying, “You are my child; you are one with me.” To hear this, to know this, is what is called “heaven” or paradise; nothing more is needed.


  1. Here is a marvelous “picture” of Jesus of Nazareth:


I wish more Christians would try to imitate this Jesus.


  1. And then there was Pope Francis on Holy Thursday:


Marvelous. And very significant if you follow the implications of what he said.


  1. Given the darkness of our social situation, there are also some culture heroes and voices of a different vision. One of my new-found people is the turn-of-the-century writer Jack London. Here is a bit of an autobiographical statement from him as he had achieved a certain success as a writer:

“So I went back to the working-class, in which I had been born and
where I belonged. I care no longer to climb. The imposing edifice of
society above my head holds no delights for me. It is the foundation
of the edifice that interests me. There I am content to labor, crowbar
in hand, shoulder to shoulder with intellectuals, idealists, and
class-conscious workingmen, getting a solid pry now and again and
setting the whole edifice rocking. Some day, when we get a few more
hands and crowbars to work, we’ll topple it over, along with all its
rotten life and unburied dead, its monstrous selfishness and sodden
materialism. Then we’ll cleanse the cellar and build a new habitation
for mankind, in which there will be no parlor floor, in which all the
rooms will be bright and airy, and where the air that is breathed will
be clean, noble, and alive.

Such is my outlook. I look forward to a time when man shall progress
upon something worthier and higher than his stomach, when there will
be a finer incentive to impel men to action than the incentive of
to-day, which is the incentive of the stomach. I retain my belief in
the nobility and excellence of the human. I believe that spiritual
sweetness and unselfishness will conquer the gross gluttony of to-day.
And last of all, my faith is in the working-class. As some Frenchman
has said, “The stairway of time is ever echoing with the wooden shoe
going up, the polished boot descending.”


  1. And in conclusion here are a few words from another one of my favorite culture heroes: John Muir. As I long to get out into the High Country of the Sierra once more this June, I ponder these words from Muir:

“ I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains.”